Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ask CJ: I've got a bad two-body problem

From the inbox, a sad dilemma (redacted and edited for clarity/privacy):
Dear Chemjobber, 
I recently ran into this dilemma and I need both you and your readers' opinion on it. 
I'm a PhD organic chemist currently working outside of chemistry making a decent-but-not-PhD-chemist wages. I've been yearning to get back in chemistry for a while now and has been seriously applying for chemistry-related jobs for over 6 months now. Suffice it to say that I did not get much attention from anyone.  
Anyhow, I recently moved my job hunt overseas, and because of my language skills, I was quickly offered a position.  
Here is my problem: my wife has zero intention of moving overseas. Granted, the salary they offered me is about half of what I'm making now, but I can offset that by living in a cheaper country and in my parents' house. 
I desperately want to get back into chemistry, but it seems my wife is more concerned about living overseas. Now, the question is, should I take the job? 
Thanks,
X
That's a tough one, X. Personally, I would factor my wife's desires into my desires for a career in a specific field. Is a life working as a chemist really worth 1) moving, 2) getting a lower salary and 3) risking my marriage? For the most part, I'd say 'no' and I suspect that most people would as well. Of all of these factors, it is the objections of my spouse that I would take most into consideration. You can have many careers, but spouses are relatively few.

That said, there are plenty of folks who have made big, big sacrifices to keep working in chemistry. To each their own.

It's sad that, at the moment, organic chemistry isn't allowing people the ability to 1) find jobs where they live and 2) employ everyone who wishes to be employed in the field. Best wishes to you, X, and to all of us.

Readers, your thoughts? 

32 comments:

  1. The Aqueous LayerMay 1, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    If it were me, the key point is: my wife has zero intention of moving overseas.

    Happy wife, happy life.

    By pursuing a job in a locale that you know your spouse is dead-set against makes this a very, very hard road. You are asking your spouse to sacrifice an awful lot because of a "yearning" to get back into chemistry.

    My wife would also serve me with papers if I suggested moving in with my parents.

    You have to decide whether or not your love of a career in chemistry is stronger than your marriage. You also need to think about whether or not you will be happy enough not doing chemistry because if you won't, you'll start to resent your spouse for denying you that opportunity.

    Regardless of which path you choose, your marriage will probably require some type of counseling to work through these issues. I wish you the best of luck, X.

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  2. I suppose the offered job is in a german-speaking country. Your salary won't be that good after taxes. If I were you I would take the job for one year - without telling your new employer that it is just a stepping stone position for you to get back into synthetic chemistry. You will get professional satisfaction out of it and new professional references, see your parents, your wife can come to visit for vacation. Then in 10-12 months time you can start applying for a new job in US, hoping that perhaps the US job market for chemists improves. One-year long position in Europe will look solid enough, and anyone can understand your family reasons for moving to Europe and then back to US again.

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    1. Ha- I wish it were that easy to get a job in a German-speaking country. I am US-American, but did my doctorate in Germany with a famous German chemist (former president of the GdCh, now retired). He was USELESS (and still is) in terms of getting my foot in the door with German academia. Refused to be of any help.

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  3. A highly undesirable position, to be sure.

    I like Milkshake's idea, but whether your marriage will survive the time you're overseas is something you need to evaluate yourself. Aside from that, I completely agree with The Aqueous Layer.

    My friends and family complain a lot about me not being married and having a family, but I wouldn't have been able to work as a professional chemist if I was in that situation. I've moved around so much during my time in industry I'm practically a professional mover. I've personally known people in all varieties of the 2-body problem. Some bring their partner with them, but the partner has to make a significant sacrifice. Some commute 2 hrs each way. Some live in different states and just go home for the weekends. Some live very long distances and only get to see their family for major holidays and events. People navigate these challenges with varying degrees of success, but I will say that in the last scenario the marriage has pretty much always fallen apart.

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  4. In addition, your life in Europe will be much less stressful than that in the US. Five weeks mandatory vacation for starters.

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  5. biotechtoreadorMay 1, 2014 at 2:34 PM

    To reiterate the first comment, the other issue will be that if your wife isn't happy you'll likely be unhappy and will not enjoy your job leading to dissatisfaction and poor performance.

    To my mind chemistry ain't worth it.

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  6. You're asking your wife to: give up her job, move to a new country, move in with your parents, and to do all of this at a smaller salary ...
    Seems like an easy answer to me. I'd think about looking for a new outlet for your creativity.

    *Disclaimer: This is what I would do. Only you can answer this question for yourself. Blah. Blah. Blah

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  7. Think whether the enjoyment you will get from being a chemist again will offset the loss of enjoyment from having to live with your parents, earn less and have either a very unhappy wife or now wife. This isn't a situation where you add the extra happiness of being a chemist to your current life, this is one or the other.

    I've done the LONG distance marriage (UK/US) before I moved to the US and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

    If you have a happy life outside of work and you don't despise your current job I'd let chemistry go, it's a fools game anyway and you're probably better off out of it.

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  8. $1100...$1100.... I will give $1100 to anyone whoever comes up with a time machine. All I want to do is to go back and change my major from chemistry to anything else; if not for the s****y job scenario then certainly because of the j**ks, a*****s, d********s who call themselves as research supervisors. And 1100 is all I have left.

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  9. Seriously, X, you should have never applied for a job overseas without discussing it with your wife first.
    And the rest of you - why would you think the job is in Europe? China seems much more likely...

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  10. Bring the MoviesMay 1, 2014 at 5:23 PM

    Meh. Just dump her and go.

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    1. Bring the MoviesMay 1, 2014 at 5:45 PM

      Oh, and the reason (if its not obvious) is you should never let a skirt interfere with a great job prospect.

      In the end, for a man, its all about the job, like it or not. I just call them as I see 'em....

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    2. that wouldn't be a very nice thing to do. I think it is far better to get the low-paying job abroad and wait. And then, if she is successful in he career in US and does not want to give it up, and tries to divorce you on top of that - well, just sue her for the alimony! You will be set for life.

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  11. Next time ask her if it's OK for you to date a girl at work - that would be slightly less stupid.

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  12. Unstable IsotopeMay 1, 2014 at 7:17 PM

    In general, couples should make decisions together. Lower salary + overseas! doesn't sound like a good deal at all. I'd keep looking here.

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  13. This sounds like a Matrix, "You've already made the choice, you now have to understand it" moment. If X is writing in this question, it sounds like he/she definitely wants the job and is looking for some outside justification. Also sounds like X and spouse do not see eye to eye on important things- X doesn't value spouse's happiness from current home's attachments, spouse's objections to conditions of working overseas, spouse doesn't value X's career ambitions/ link between career and self-esteem. No info here on if the spouse also has a job, what the aggregate state of finances is, whether the spouse has the language skills to cope in another country, if there might be restrictions on the spouse's social or religious practices in the other country. If there are no kids involved, the spouse and X should cut losses and get a divorce.

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  14. What about adjunct teaching for this individual? This person could keep both the non-chemistry job he has and teach a night class or two for a couple semesters. This allows the individual to get some recent chemistry work on his resume. That's the main problem in his job search in the US, IMO.

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    Replies
    1. Adjunct teaching is NOT "recent chemistry work". It is low-paid teaching.

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  15. Bring the Movies and a few others: Stop being nasty; the guy who wrote the email is probably reading this post. These are real issues faced by more people than we think.

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  16. " it seems my wife is more concerned about living overseas"
    In the case of several foreign coworkers, their wives came with them. Within a year several wives were basically clinically depressed because they were completely socially isolated- they didn't have the visa to work here, their English was marginal, they didn't have US drivers' licenses or cars of their own, their husbands were at work all the time, they were away from aging/sick relatives, they didn't have money of their own to spend because they couldn't work, they even had to leave behind their pets.
    Having concerns about moving to another country isn't unreasonable.

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  17. Well, this is X. I want to thank Chemjobber for posting my email and everyone else for your comments. It is a stressful situation, and adding to that is parental pressure. As some may have guessed, the foreign country is in Asia, and I am Chinese. While the company that has given me an offer is supposed to be one of the larges chemical companies in that country, I do worry about my marketability after working there. Would I have a chance to move back here after working there for a couple of years? I am not sure anyone know the answer to that because no one could predict the job market for chemist will be like (probably bad, but how bad?). If I stay, I run the risk of not ever able to use a degree I worked so hard for. It's a hard decision, and it's very real. I don't wish this feeling for my worst enemy.

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    1. If there are no kids involved, a 1 year job away (Milkshake's advice) could even make your relationship better. Take it, a job's important. After a couple jobs out of grad school, I took a job out of chemistry and could never get back, I regret it dearly. I now do shit work for the acs and every single day is hell - if you think you want to get back in chemistry, listen to yourself and do it. (And thx to Chemjobber for allowing anonymous posts.)

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    2. Anonymous May 1, 2:57pm here.

      I thought it would be OK and then 10 months later we were reading up on divorce law and splitting up over Skype. Thankfully things got better and we are together in the same country again. LDRs are worse than being single, it was like I was a chemistry monk.

      Is your wife Chinese as well? If not she may find she is very socially isolated, especially if she is not working, my wife did when I was doing my postdoc.

      Good luck X! Hope it works out OK

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    3. I know many Chinese friends of mine who after being laid off went on to work in China. Many of them are married and their wife is happily working here in the USA (chemist, Port authority NY/NJ, Postal worker etc.) and taking care of the kids. Meaning right balance of life and work! So, you should go ahead and take this job in China and leave your wife here. It is the best of situation.

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  18. I moved overseas for a job and left my significant other behind. By year two I was really depressed and coming in to work was a struggle even though it was a job I enjoyed. It was really terrible. Eventually she joined me and now I'm happy even though currently I lost my job, but I do have another offer that I have to seriously think about. It just seems so easy to say you'll be a year or two apart, but the deep depression is something that I never want to go through again. Maybe it's because of that lost year that I don't have as good prospects on the market now. Never underestimate how thoroughly the depression will affect your capacity to work after a year or two of being alone. So yes, I agree that spouse is the most important consideration and it's better to forget about chemistry. That would be the choice I would make now.

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  19. The Iron ChemistMay 2, 2014 at 9:06 AM

    As a post-doc, I lived separately from my wife for three years. Every other weekend, one of us would drive three hours to see the other. In that sense, the situation could have been a lot worse, but it was still pretty miserable. It definitely added stress to an already highly stressful set of circumstances.

    My advice would be to not take the job X. I suspect that you would indeed have difficulty making the transition back to the US (particularly if the INS needs to get involved). I know that you've spent a lot of time getting your PhD and you want to make the best use of that experience, but sometimes it's just best to move on. Think about what your graduate studies have given you besides ~5 years in a lab. Perhaps your PhD is better integrated into your current life than you think.

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  20. I am currently a European postdoc at a university in Shanghai (I stupidly thought going to China and learning the language would make me more employable - turns out it's the complete opposite) and I can honestly say I would not bother leaving your current job for one in Asia. I am finding it impossible to get a job at any type of pharma company in Europe or China. I think you would encounter the same problem if you were to drop the job you have now and head over to the Asian country (is it China?). Also, if your wife is American, I think she would find it difficult to adapt to the climate and local customs of the country you are going to. It took me a while to adapt to the Chinese way of doing things, the pollution, the food etc.

    Your reduced salary and living with your parents would also be another problem. Plus the type of working conditions which can be found throughout Asian countries - long working hours for little pay, constantly doing overtime, safety standards (or lack of). I think your decision is an easy one to make. Despite what the other anonymous poster says about regretting that he/she left chemistry, there is no point in giving up your wife for it - I would think she is far more important than a poorly paid job.

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  21. All I can say is you must really love chemistry if you're considering this, kudos to you. I've had that kind of enthusiasm burned out of me by grad school - at this point I consider it a bonus if whatever job I find once I graduate has nothing to do with chemistry. I wouldn't take the job, and not just because I'm burned out on chemistry. My guess is you wouldn't remained married long if you moved over the wife's objections. You don't sound particularly dissatisfied with your current position. I'm curious if there's anything beyond wanting to use your PhD driving the desire for a career change.

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  22. X, you will need to have an honest, sensitive discussion with your wife about this - because there is only so much situation-appropriate advice that anonymous readers can give. You need to talk to your wife about *why* she doesn't want to move abroad - does she have family in the USA that she is close to? Is it because she likes her current job, or because she has a strong social circle she does not want to give up? Is it the fear of the unknown, or a language issue? Is she willing to relocate at all around North America with you? Understand what is important to her, and be prepared to compromise on your dreams.

    In your place, I would stick it out and continue applying to jobs in the USA. Six months job-hunting with no success isn't that uncommon - it can take experienced chemists a year or more. There are also others ways to gain satisfaction in life than through organic chemistry: taking up new hobbies, switching to a different job or changing responsibilities, prioritising family/fitness/self-improvement.

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  23. Concrete DovetailMay 2, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    I've done intercontinental relationships throughout grad school and my post-docs. Marriage was also long distance for a bit. We only did this because we had to. If you don't have to go long distance, I would not do it. Chemistry has not been a very loyal spouse lately. It would be best to find other ways to satisfy your yearning for intellectual challenge.

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  24. X, the spouse is far more important than the job.

    Seriously, I know what it's like to be out of chemistry and think you'll never get back in. I got luckier than I ever deserved to be after 12 years out of chemistry and got back in. That was 10 years ago. I doubt it would happen today.

    Twenty-three years ago, my pursuit of chemistry got me the Ph.D. I wanted and cost me the wife I loved and promised to stay with "as long as we both shall live." I regret that and shall regret that to the end of my life.

    Job vs wife? Choose the wife. Parental pressure? Tell them the wife is more important. I'm sure you love your parents and want to honor them. I love my parents and do all I can to honor and respect them, but the wife has to come before the parents.

    That's my take on it. Your mileage may vary.

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  25. I'm the opposite of the original emailer...I've been in chemistry (w/PhD) 6 years and I'm desperately trying to find a way out. I love science/chemistry, but as a career it's a dead end, especially with a wife and kids to support. But I'm finding that I'm too specialized and pigeonholed to do anything else, and I've done the moving to a new job thing too many times already (and know I'll have to some more in the future, which sucks).

    My advice to the the OP is to stay out of chemistry...you're earning better money (you said) and won't have to put the strain on your marriage. It's not worth it, no matter how much you love chemistry at its core. That's my opinion, at least.

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